We arrived at the entrance to Lefkas town at 8am and hat to make a dash for the bridge opening that only opens on the hour. A very interesting concept of a “short cut”to the port of Lefkas, is the 50 meter swing bridge. We were anxious to get to our birth that we have booked out for 3 weeks. This is where I will stay while Johann goes back to Australia and wait for Lientjie (my sister) to join us.
Lefkas is the capital of the island of Lefkada. It is situated on the north east coast, where the island is joined to the mainland (with the swing bridge). The marina is fairly new and has a lovely feel to it with a good variety of services for yachties. The new marina has certainly given the economy of Lefkas a boost as more and more yachts are using it as a base for services and quite a few boats use it as a permanent base.
It is a delightful and typical little Greek town with a few late 1600 stone churches, not built around tourism (although the development of the “tourist street” has been added to give it some extra flair and opportunities to restaurateurs and shop keepers.) After few huge earthquakes in 1948 and 1950 which rocked the Ionian Islands, a major part of Lefkas town was destroyed, forcing inhabitants to rebuild their houses with the remains of old houses. For that reason you will see a few very attractive wooden houses with a corrugated-iron second level on top of it. Lefkas has a few wonderful surprisingly interesting cycling roads and around the lagoon has to be one of my favourites! From the marina around the lagoon and back would be around 8-9 km and is an easy ride where you can access some pretty amazing (remote) beaches on the way and see the three old Greek windmills that makes a fabulous picture against the blue ocean.
Arriving there we had to laugh about the coincidence (once again for the 3rd time in 2 years) to be docked next to Laguz! (An Australian Gunboat of Rob and Pat) It shows you how small the sailing world really is! It was time for the captain to get us legal in Greece: Customs became the mission of the morning! When Johann arrived back at the boat, asking for a beer as he stepped on board, I got this description of the last 3 hours’ encounter with the Greek Customs and Port Police Authorities:”An exasperating experience and a process totally lacking in logic. A ridiculous bureaucratic process oozing with red tape and paperwork – totally inexplicable to the western mind! A truly frustrating cumbersome experience where they send you from one office to the next (not close by either) and back to the first… Without having done much more than a single signature on the massive amount of paperwork they made you fill out!”
I am so glad that this is not part of my job description – I would not have been able to handle it that gracefully for sure! (I later did experience some of it when I tried to get a data / internet plan and needed to apply for a TAX number! Oh my word!! You need to have a great sense of humour to get through it without loosing it!)
Johann and I could not wait to get a taste of the Greek food … and whau … we were so not used to rich/ olive oily drenched food, that although we loved it, it caused a few upset stomach moments for us. There are a few things about the authentic / traditional Greek ways that is quite interesting – as we have experienced it in the short time we have been here in Lefkas:
• A kebab is not a skewer/ “sosatie” in Afrikaans – it is a skinless sausage. It took us a while to work out that the “meat on the stick” / kebab – is actually sold by the butcher as a skinless sausage on a skewer to make it easier to handle. Of cause they take the wooden skewer out when serving it.
• Wine glasses in the traditional restaurants are thick tiny water glasses and not necessarily a stem glass. It takes time (more than what I had available) to get use to them and wine tastes totally different in them.
• Trading times are weird to say the least! Some shops open at 9am and some at 11am – siesta is anything between 1-1.30pm till 5.30-6pm. They then reopen till 9 or 11pm. That’s the straight forward times. On Tuesday afternoons in Lefkas, none of the shops are open!? When I asked the friendly policeman why are they closed (don’t they need the business to make money?) in the middle of the week? His reply was: Because we Greeks are lazy! Not wrong there sir! If a shop has been opened on a Saturday morning till 1pm, you can be sure they will take an additional half day off somewhere during the week as well! All very confusing!
• The road rules, parking rules, boating rules etc. is NOT there to be followed by Greeks! Even the police will join the illegal parking of nose in if it is parallel parking or double parking if they cannot find a spot in front of the cop-shop. If you feel like parking on a roundabout – don’t worry – just do it! Anything goes! Tell you what – It makes it easier for me to drive around in this place (not being used to left-hand drive cars and driving on the right hand side of the road!)
• Honking is not rude – it means I am passing you or I am turning or I am taking this blind bend now -so don’t worry if the B%#@*0?! Behind you is honking at you – he just wants to pass you! 🙂
• They pretty much work on island time – so don’t hold your breath to get a tradesman out at the time you have made the arrangement/ appointment. It might be the same day if you are lucky!
• They like cash – claiming not to have credit card facilities?! Probably one of the reasons the economyis not in the best of states? You have to wonder how much they declare. Greece is known to have a tax collection problem as part of their fiscal disaster.
• You will need a passport to get a sim card for your phone or ipad- even if it is a prepaid card. They use you Father’s name as part of identification – which we found pretty strange! (In Australia it is a DOB or driver’s licence no)
Johann left me behind the 4th day after we’ve arrived – with no intention to give me time off! The list of things to do and take care of was as long as my arm. Lefkas and the 3 week period without the skipper is ideal for the few maintenance jobs we need to get done anyway! For the next 2 weeks I have been organising jobs to be done and have basically babysitting tradesmen! In that time we have replaced the salination probe of the water maker, serviced the genset (generator), serviced all the winches on the boat, had all port holes refitted (due to a bad job that has been done a few months ago after someone mentioned to us that the peeling of the old ones can easily be replaced for free by Lewmar – it was an acknowledged bad batch), the life raft and all fire extinguishers had a full service and all fridge and freezers has been checked and topped up with gas.
I then had to clean the boat, all the stainless steel, make socks/ covers for all the fenders (Luckily Lientjie helped me with that massive job!), do a few sewing repairs and only then could we start relaxing! Tradesmen were coming and going over the 2 week period without much of a conversation happening between us – not many would be able to speak English and I have not a single Greek word in my vocabulary! There was only one of the tradesmen that could speak English well. On the last day he wanted to know (looking pretty puzzled but with clearly respectful at me) if I am the Skipper of this boat (not having seen a man on board for all the 2 weeks they were working on board! Well… that could be my moment of Whauw … the captain would not know if I say Yes … unless of cause he is reading my blogs! 🙂
Cleaning the boat in and outside was not as easy as it sounds, because I could only do it very early in the morning before the sun comes up or later in the early evening. The morning thing suits me better and by 8 am I wanted to be back inside as temperatures will soon soar to the mid 30’s or high 30’s. Besides the temperature, it is easier to work when the wind is not blowing (and spraying water all over the sleeping neighbours hatches!). By the time Lientjie arrived I was ready for company and getting around for a change! We still had the odd jobs to do, but they can wait till the last few days.
We have explored just about every shop, avenue and restaurant in Lefkas before heading for the beach. There is a lovely beach bar on the lagoon with wonderful service and umbrellas and a cute little beach (cobbled stone beaches seems to be all over Greece but certainly all along the Island of Lefkada’s shores. It was a gorgeous day and the extra bike ride there and back made for a healthy one too!
We had the opportunity to go to Nidri (catching a lift with our neighbours in the Marina, John and Nikkie on the yacht Juliette) It is a bustling beachfront village packed with shops and tavernas. We were lured by a waiter with good looks but not such good food unfortunately – a bad choice we had to live with… lesson learned! The tree-lined pebbled beaches have stunning clear water and wonderful views out to the surrounding islands. A view onto Scorpios island (once owned by Ari Onassis) was quite a treat and we were suddenly intrigued by the island.
After giving it some thoughts, we have decided to be brave and rent a car to do a round island tour for €35 unlimited km. To go by bus of ferry from place to place was just about impossible to do in one day (the times of the busses and ferries just did not dovetail well) and will cost us a fortune. It would be my first left-hand drive on the “wrong side of the road” experience all together! I was almost overcome by my apprehension but the fact that I had a co-pilot made the idea more acceptable. What a wonderful day it was!!
We went all along the west coast pass beautiful beaches like Kathisma (with its rows upon rows of umbrellas, loungers, beach bar and restaurants. The beaches are white and pebbly, the sea a beautiful blue-green and the little Greek towns are picturesque. We happened to follow a tourist bus into the beach of Kathisma and was totally blown away by it!) , Gialos – more quiet but still beautiful –with a lot of campers and a small taverna but with no toilet facilities around. We only stopped for a quick drink before heading on). We missed Egremni beach’s turnoff and found a place where we can turn around as the streets and roads are ridiculously narrow! Well the turn-around spot happened to be a road stall selling honey (the thyme honey is just the best ever!) and freshly dried herbs (thyme again!)! We got stuck there and were so impressed with our purchases that we completely forgot why we went there in the first place (to turn back to the turn-off). That is how it happens that Egremni beach never made it to my blog 🙁
The one big carrot in front of our little blue fiat was of cause PORTO KATSIKI (Porto Katsiki means “Port of the Goat”, because before only a goat could reach this area.) A strip of pure white sand at the foot of a towering white rock cliff fringed by the bluest and clearest water you can imagine! It was awarded the prize of the loveliest beach in Greece and you can tell why! We have often seen the familiar picturesque beach on posters promoting tourism. Truly one of the most awesome beaches I have ever been to. Walking down the 101 stairs to the pebbled beach that stretches from the cliff all around to the caves and rocks on the other side, had in contrast with the other west coast beaches, very few umbrellas and deck chairs were around. They might just be limited so you have to either provide your own or seek for shade all along the cliff. That is exactly what we have done. It is advisable to take some reef walkers along, as those pebbled stones are not thong or bare feet friendly! Just a warning. They do get hot and is tough on your feet! Swimming there is absolutely wonderful – the refreshing clear water make it almost impossible to swim without sunglasses to protect you from the glare of the bright reflections of the beach cliff and water.
We made our way around the south of Lefkada island past Vassiliki (a bay that is extremely popular amongst wind surfers. It is classed among the Europe’s three best beaches for windsurfing with the steady wind and large bay.) The bay was scattered with at least 60 odd windsurfers – in itself a sight to behold! A cold glass of wine later (it was about 7pm) we were on our way via the east coast back to Lefkas to in order to drop the car off before 9pm. The sun only sets at 9:20pm and made for a lovely long day of beach hunting.
The east coast beaches (with no high cliffs) are not as spectacular as the west coast ones but they have a great advantage: they are sheltered from the wind and always calm and safe.
All in all a wonderful day of driving around the mountainous Lefkada with its narrow winding roads. The road provides you with some breathtaking views but also some breathtaking (nervous) moments on the narrow strips of road with vehicles having to almost scraping past each other! It was fun! We had too many laughing fits for adult consumption, but memorable never-the-less!
Johann arrived back after having been away for 3 weeks and was eager to get out of the marina. It was almost sad to leave Lefkas – It was home for just over 3 weeks and John and Nikki became such great friends. We had so much fun with Nikki’s lovely midlands English accent (?) Nikki, if you read this, this is my message to you: “Next time we meet, let it be on a Moonday (Monday) and we can have Boobles (bubbles) for loonch (lunch) when your Moom (mum) and Coosin (cousin) are there, maybe they can come too? OK?” Love your accent and will miss you guys very much!